WNBA, NWSL face uncertainty entering critical seasons: ‘I’m definitely a little concerned’

The NWSL and WNBA, which were scheduled to start April 18 and May 15, respectively, have suspended their seasons indefinitely.

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The momentum was there and the storylines were plentiful.

This summer was going to be a critical season for women’s sports, especially in Chicago. But now the WNBA and NWSL find themselves in limbo as the coronavirus pandemic continues worldwide.

The WNBA and NWSL are still in the early stages of establishing their space in the sports realm, though both made strides over the last year.

Earlier this year, the WNBA and its player union reached a groundbreaking eight-year labor deal, which set a new standard for women’s sports as the players received increased salaries and better benefits. The league also saw a 7 percent increase in viewership during the regular season across ESPN networks and ABC from 2018, according to Sports Media Watch. And that was without the draw of some of big stars, such as Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart and Skylar Diggins-Smith, who missed last season but will be back this summer.

Meanwhile, the NWSL, entering its eighth season, was in a similar position, building off of last season’s record-setting attendance after the U.S. women’s national team won its fourth World Cup title. This offseason, the league established improved compensation guidelines, which gave players benefits like year-round housing and guaranteed pay. The NWSL also entered a multiyear deal with CBS Sports, which will help increase league visibility.

The NWSL and WNBA, which were scheduled to start April 18 and May 15, respectively, have suspended their seasons indefinitely.

The delay — or cancellation — of each season could have huge impacts on the leagues and their players.

“I’m definitely a little concerned, I’d say we all are,” Red Stars midfielder Danielle Colaprico said. “I know that the NWSL is going to do whatever it takes to have a league this year and have a season. I’m just kind of hopeful that at some point we can get going because obviously we’ve all worked so hard this offseason to prepare ourselves for this season. We wouldn’t want that to go to waste.”

Some WNBA players, who play overseas to supplement their income, already have felt the effects of the stoppage of sports.

Sky forward Cheyenne Parker signed a $300,000 contract to play this winter for the Sichuan Blue Whales of the Women’s Chinese Basketball Association, the top professional women’s league in Asia. But she hasn’t received a payment since the league was suspended in January.

“Technically, the season is not canceled,” Parker said. “They only suspended it and so because of that, they’re still obligated to pay, but they don’t have to pay until it resumes, technically.”

In total, Parker said her Chinese team still owes her $100,000, and she isn’t sure whether she’ll get it.

“It sucks,” said Parker, who is expected to earn $110,000 this season in the WNBA. “But all I can really do right now is hope that I’m going to get that money some way, somehow, because I want to go back, I wanted to go back to that exact team, I wanted to go back to China so it would be really horrible if it doesn’t work out the way we all want it to.”

There are some players who lucked out. Gabby Williams, who played for BLMA in France, and Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot, who played for UMMC Ekaterinburg, expect to be paid for at least a portion of their remaining contracts even though their seasons were cut short.

It’s no secret that female athletes make a fraction of what their male counterparts earn — that fact is the reason the U.S. women’s national team is suing U.S. Soccer, alleging pay discrimination.

In basketball, the pay differential is staggering. Under the new collective-bargaining agreement, the WNBA’s highest base salary is $215,000, while the NBA’s highest-paid player this season, Steph Curry, has a base salary topping $40 million.

The NWSL will continue to provide housing and pay players’ salary during the league’s suspension, Colaprico said.

“We’re all so thankful that those compensation guidelines came out,” Colaprico said. “That’s great for our league and it kind of came at a great time. Having that reassurance that we all have year-round housing, I can truly call Chicago my second home.”

But it’s unclear if the same will hold true for the WNBA.

“The WNBA takes care of our housing and stuff, too, so I don’t have a place to live if the league . . . is suspended,” Williams said. “The NBA players, they’re huddled up in their mansions, they’ve got indoor gyms, they’ve got everything they need at their house.

“Yeah, I’m lucky I’m getting paid now with France, but I know that if I don’t get paid this summer because of the suspension with the WNBA, that’s going to be really harmful for me and my family, too.”

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